Animal lovers learn how to prepare for disaster at AVC conference

Mitch MacDonald
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Laurel Hache, assistant training manager with St. John Ambulance, uses dog mannequin "Casper" to shows from left, second year AVC student Nicole Hobbs and Allana Monkley, shelter attendant and volunteer firefighter with Charlottetown Station 2, how to treat minor wounds on pets with bandages during a conference at the school Saturday. Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald

When it comes to responding to a disaster, good intentions usually are not good enough.

That's why more than 40 animal lovers spent much of Saturday learning how to provide animal sheltering and pet first aid during a conference on disaster preparedness at the Atlantic Veterinary College.

The conference was hosted by the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) and saw a mix of AVC students, volunteers from the P.E.I. Humane Society and CAT Action Team, fire-fighters and pet owners attend.

Elizabeth Turner, an AVC student and member of SCAVMA, said the event aimed to educate the larger community on being prepared to care for pets after a major disaster.

"We want to connect the Atlantic Veterinary College with everybody around us, it's really useful  information because you never know when a disaster may strike," said Turner. "For example, if there is a hurricane and an owner's home is destroyed they may have to make sure they're animal is prepared to be in a confinement or carrier. In addition, the animal may be injured, choking or they could have a cut on them. So one of the courses we're having helps owners understand what to do before they're able to find a veterinarian."

Providing makeshift shelters for groups of animals after a disaster was the focus of a presentation by Dr. Carin Wittnich, lead veterinarian with the Oceanographic Environmental Research Society (OERS).

Wittnich said training beforehand and knowing different animals' requirements is key to dealing with a disaster.

In most cases, shelters would have to be made from adjusting available materials to fit the animals' needs.

"After a disaster how much stuff are you going to have available to you and what is it  going to be? You have to make due with what you have," said Wittnich. 

One example was adapting different cages usually used for large dogs so they would fit other animals such as waterfowl, lizards, chickens.

"When you're doing disaster housing you have to realize it's not going to be perfect. You just want to make sure their requirements are met."

Jim Goltz, chief veterinary officer for New Brunswick and volunteer pathologist and senior scientist with OERS, spoke on preventing infections in those makeshift shelters.

Goltz said biosecurity measures have to be put in place and placed an importance on understanding common infections and how they spread beforehand.

"Then you can try and take steps to stop that from happening by creating barriers," said Goltz.

Those barriers included segregating sick animals, as well as putting in procedures such as using separate clothing and footwear when dealing with them, wearing gloves or having separate individuals tend to infected animals.

"If you're short on individuals then you go from the healthy ones and deal with the sick ones last," he said. "When it comes to responding to a disaster, good intentions aren't good enough. People need to be well-trained and experienced in what they're doing."

Other topics  included equine first aid, procedures for stranded whales and a cat and dog first-aid workshop presented by St. John Ambulance.

Laurel Hache, assistant training manager with the ambulance's N.S. P.E.I. council, used a dog mannequin to show procedures such as bandaging, splinting and a CPR demonstration.

"Just common everyday things that a pet owner may encounter and (knowing) when it's appropriate to go see a veterinarian and when it's appropriate to treat it yourself," said Hache.

While minor wounds can often be bandaged or washed out by pet owners, Hache said it is important to consult a veterinarian if owners see signs of infections, severe wounds or anything abnormal.

Organizations: Atlantic Veterinary College, SCAVMA, Oceanographic Environmental Research Society American Veterinary Medical Association P.E.I. Humane Society N.S. P.E.I. council

Geographic location: New Brunswick

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